Fermentation Guides

Water Kefir – The Ultimate Guide on How To Make Water Kefir with Kefir Grains

Water Kefir Guide Cover Picture

You've probably heard about the many health benefits of water kefir, but did you know that its actually quite easy to make yourself? 

In this article you will learn more about water kefir, and how you can quickly and easily begin making your own delicious kefir beverages.

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Water kefir is a light, naturally fermented, effervescent probiotic beverage with a diverse range of flavors and textures. Depending on how you prepare it, your water kefir can be sweet or sour with a texture ranging from light and sparkling to deep and yeasty.

It can even become a little bit alcoholic which may be of interest to some (around 0.5% or more depending on how long you ferment it and conditions).

Water kefir is made by mixing water kefir crystals or “grains” with water and sugar, and allowing the mixture time to ferment. These grains are actually Symbiotic Colonies Of Bacteria & Yeast (aka, SCOBYs), and come in the form of beautiful, translucent-jelly-crystals. In the right environmental conditions they can more than double in quantity every day!

Water kefir grains thrive on a mineral and carbohydrate-rich liquid diet. They can live in sugar water, fruit juices, coconut water, in soy/almond/rice milk, or even honey. Adding whole fruits to your kefir can give your SCOBYs a natural yeast boost, and enhance the flavor.

These little grains metabolize sugars into beneficial acids, releasing B vitamins and other healthy enzymes which aid digestion and nutrient absorption.

What you will learn in this post


  • What is Water Kefir and why is it good for you
  • A (really short) look into the history of water kefir
  • Health benefits of water kefir
  • The two main fermentation phases
  • Where to buy water kefir grains and how to handle them
  • The basic water kefir recipe as well as some delicious variations
  • Many answers to questions that might pop up along the way

The Origins of Water Kefir

That name ‘water kefir’ is itself a bit of a misnomer, as kefir originally referred only to the grains which are used in milk fermentations, aka milk kefir grains. While the grains look similar, they have very different bacterial strains and properties.

Someone saw that these two bacterias have similar physical properties and named them both kefir- however the original, or furthest back name we can find of these little guys is tibicos.

According to Sandor Katz’s and other researchers findings, other names can be found, such as: sugary water grains, tibetan crystals, japanese water crystals, and bees wine…

The best documentation as to the origin of the grains is found in a 1899 study which found that the “tibi” crystals which form on the Opuntia cactus in Mexico can be reconstituted with water to make water kefir.

These grains are still used today to make a Pre-Colombian mexican beverage called Tepache, traditionally made with pineapple and cinnamon.

Health Benefits

Besides the great sparkling taste, innumerable flavor combos, and the fun of having these happy ‘pets’ fizzle and bubble to greet you every morning, drinking water kefir also has many health benefits.

After these crystals have metabolized the sugars, the calorie count is less and the sweetness decreases. This resulting probiotic rich soda promotes a healthy gut, better digestion, and systemic wellness by releasing B vitamins and good acids to balance our internal PH.

They also serve as a kind of “outsourced” immune system, as the dominant bacterial culture in a given tract will fight off invading detrimental bacterial cultures - notably in yeast infections.

These fizzy drinks are a great way to get healthy probiotics into kids (or anyone else who loves soda-pops!), and can also be used as a healing tonic by mixing in the herbal remedy of your choice.

Please add an attribution to ediblealchemy.co when adding this infographic to your site. Thank you 🙂

Water Kefir Health Benefits Infographic

Fermentation Phases

When making water kefir, there are generally two phases of fermentation. During each phase, the probiotic concentration of your kefir increases and the sugars you have added decrease as they are consumed by the kefir cultures. Kefir fermentation is anaerobic, which means that no oxygen is required for your cultures to work their magic.

Primary Fermentation

primary fermentation with water kefir grains

This is the first phase of fermentation, and takes place with your kefir grains present in the solution. During this phase, your ferment’s flavor and texture is heavily influenced by any fruits or roots present.

Fermentation proceeds at a faster rate, due to the large population of microorganisms (kefir grains) present.

Secondary Fermentation

secondary fermentation - bottled water kefir

This phase begins after the kefir grains are removed from your kefir. Your beverage will continue to ferment due to the invisible bacterial cultures still present.

Often additional sugar-source (i.e. syrups, fresh fruits, jam) is added during this phase and in a closed vessel or bottle so that carbonation can build.

Where to buy Water Kefir Grains

First off, make sure you get WATER KEFIR grains! There is a difference between milk kefir and water kefir grains, and they are not interchangeable!

Next up, you’ll have to decide if you want powdered, live or dehydrated kefir grains.

powdered kefir grains
  • Unlimited Shelf-Life
  • Use immediately
  • Doesn't reproduce
dehydrated kefir grains
  • Unlimited Shelf-Life
  • Requires re-hydration
  • Lifetime supply
hydrated kefir grains
  • Limited Shelf-Life 
  • Use immediately
  • Lifetime supply
  • Powdered kefir has unlimited shelf-life and is ready for immediate use. However, it generally isn’t able to reproduce for more than a few batches of kefir. You will have to keep buying more.

  • Live kefir grains are delivered in a sugar-water solution. They don’t live indefinitely without regular care, but they are ready for immediate use and will multiply, providing you with a lifetime supply of kefir grains.

  • Dehydrated kefir grains have a nearly unlimited shelf-life, but you need to rehydrate them for a few days before you can use them. Once they’re out of “hibernation”, they will multiply indefinitely.

There are multiple options for buying or trading water kefir grains online. Health food stores sometimes also carry these grains, sometime “active”, but more frequently dehydrated. Often, the easiest solution is to acquire your grains from someone in your part of the world who has them already. 

NOTE: Some countries have strict regulations regarding the importation of foreign bacterial cultures (like New Zealand), so be aware as you order (and travel with) your kefir grains!

Re-hydrating Kefir Grains

If you’ve purchased dehydrated water kefir grains, you will need to “activate” (aka rehydrate) them first.

You will need:

  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated water kefir grains

  • 4 cups (1L) of boiled & warm water

  • ½ cup (100G) of sugar (raw cane sugar, white refined sugar is fine, jaggery, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, rice syrup, barley malt)

Carafe w/ water
dehydrated kefir grains

Dehydrated Kefir Grains

powdered kefir grains

1/2 cup sugar

Glass Jar

Instructions:
jar
  1. Add ½ cup (100g) of sugar to 4 cups (1L) of warm, dechlorinated water in a clean, non-metal vessel (glass jar or a plastic bottle).
  2. Stir till sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the sugar-water to cool to room temperature.
  3. Once the sugar water is completely cooled (hot water can kill your kefir!) add 1 tablespoon of dehydrated kefir grains.
  4. Do NOT seal the container! Your kefir needs to breathe, and gas build-up in a sealed container could lead to explosions.

    Cover your jar with a paper towel, or a coffee filter, or a dishcloth, and secure in place with a rubber band.
  5. Wait 3 days.
  6. Strain the re-hydrated kefir crystals out of the water and throw away the rehydration liquid - it will not have been significantly cultured by the rehydrating grains and is not so flavorful.
  7. Use your activated kefir grains in your first recipe!

If you want to save these instructions for later make sure you download our free guide here.

Basic Water Kefir Recipe

Now that you have your live, hydrated water kefir crystals, it’s time to make your first basic water kefir! (I'll be making one of my favorites - a refreshing fig-lemon-goji berry tonic.) 

You will need:

  • 1 tablespoon active (hydrated) water kefir grains

  • 4 cups (1L) boiled & warm water

  • ½ cup of sugar (raw cane sugar, white refined sugar is fine, jaggery, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, rice syrup, barley malt)

  • Dried or fresh fruits & roots for flavoring (for example: dried figs, cherries, lemon slices, apple slices, sarsaparilla, fresh ginger, goji berries, dates, etc)

  • (Optional) Flavored syrups, juices and extracts (lavender, vanilla, apple juice...)

glas jar
Glass Jar w/ Water

hydrated kefir grains

Hydrated Kefir Grains

powdered kefir grains

1/2 cup sugar

Dried fruits

Dried fruits (rasins, dates, apricots, figs, etc)

Instructions:

1.

Make your sugar solution. Add ½ cup (100g) of sugar to 4 cups (1L) of boiled, still warm water in a jar or plastic bottle. Stir till sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the sugar-water to cool to room temperature.

2.

Add active kefir grains. Once the sugar water is completely cooled (again, hot water can kill your kefir!) add 1 tablespoon of active kefir grains.

NOTE: the more grains you have, the faster they digest available sugars, thus the faster your kefir will be ready. You may need to add more sugar and water.

3.

Add dried and fresh fruits. The extra yeasts from the skin of the fruits help the fermentation process as your kefir grains eat the sugars and create more carbonation while adding fruity natural flavours.

4.

Seal your container. Water kefir grains do not need oxygen to survive (like a kombucha SCOBY does), so your vessel can be sealed or lightly capped. The tighter the cap, the more carbonation builds up. I use a wide mouth jar so i can get fruit and the grains out and in more easily than a bottle neck.

NOTE: over-carbonation can be dangerous, especially in glass containers! Open the cap every 1-2 days to release air-pressure and to avoid explosions.

5.

Watch your ferment. After 48 hours, the fruit that sank to the bottom of your jar should now be floating at top. This means carbonation and fermentation are happening!

water kefir jar

NOTE: the warmer the ambient temperature, the faster your kefir will ferment. To slow down fermentation, put it in a cool place. To bring fermentation to a near stand still, put it in the fridge.

6.

Pour the flavorful, effervescent liquid into a bottle while straining out the kefir grains.Place your grains in another sugar-water solution. These happy fellas have probably doubled in quantity, and are ready for your next ferment.

NOTE: You are what you eat, and your water kefir grains are no different. Expect them to change color according to the sweeteners, flavours and added ingredients you ferment them with. I used hibiscus tea and honey to make a ferment and it changed my grains pink!

Another time I added young walnuts to the mix and changed the entire batch BLUE! This is not bad, just a temporary effect until the next batches change the colour back to the original.

7.

The liquid product, now separated from the grains, is “Water Kefir’ and will continue to ferment and carbonate in the sealed bottle (secondary fermentation). This beverage can be cooled and enjoyed as is.

Optionally, you can enhance it further with herbs such as mint and cardamom, sweeteners such as sugar or honey, and various flavored syrups. You can even use it as a “starter” for other sodas & vegetable ferments, or instead of yeast for baking... the possibilities are limitless!

NOTE: Your final beverage will have MUCH fewer calories than your initial ferment. Water kefir feeds on sugars, digesting them and releasing CO2 (carbonation) in the process. Water kefir bacteria can eat maple syrup and agave syrup, unlike kombucha cultures. Sugar-free sweeteners such as stevia will NOT feed your kefir, but feel free to add it to your finished product for an low-calorie sweet taste!

Water Kefir Flavors

Now that you have the basic recipe for making water kefir, it’s time to start experimenting!

Every water kefir has 3 variables:

  • Sugar you feed your grains
  • Fruits and herbs you feed your kefir grains (primary fermenation)
  • Flavorings and syrups you add AFTER you’ve removed your grains (secondary fermentation)

Here are some combinations I’ve enjoyed:

  • Coconut sugar, lemon peel, and lavender syrup
  • Rosemary Lime Fizz - Demerara sugar, lime peel, and rosemary syrup
  • Brown sugar, dried figs, and orange cardamom syrup
  • Orange Dreamsicle

Different Flavor Combos & Ideas

When it comes to making water kefir recipes, I prefer to make a large jar of water kefir with my standard ingredients of water, cane sugar, kefir grains and whatever fruit (dried has more yeasts in the skin and gets fermentation going faster!)I have on hand.

Then once that water is cultured and bubbling I separate that water from the grains and use the liquid to inoculate my other soda-pops. You can add the grains directly, as I have in some recipes below. However, if there is loose tea or many fresh fruits included, it might be difficult (messy) to separate your grains from the extra flavoring ingredients. 

Now that you have the basic recipe for making water kefir, it’s time to start experimenting! Here are some 3 of my favorite recipes but you can also find 34 of the best recipes from fellow bloggers here.

Yerba Mate Honey Water Kefir

Make a hot yerba-mate tea according to your likened strength of the flavor. For every 1 L of tea, add ¼ cup of honey. Once tea is cooled and honey dissolved, add either direct water kefir grains, or dilute the sweet tea with the prepared water-kefir solution.

Rosehip-Hibiscus-Apple Water Kefir

This is one of Edible Alchemy’s classics – always a crowd pleaser. Usually you can find dried rosehips, hibiscus flowers and dried apple in tea stores or make it yourself. The combo is delicious as a tea, but even better as a soda. Prepare it as a sweet tea, then add your water kefir.

Jam-Jelly Juicy Water Kefir

Do you have a special jam or jelly that you just love the flavor of? Or, is there some jam or jelly that you have too much of and don't know what to do with it? Add it to flavor your water kefir. With boiling water, dilute and dissolve the jam, whether it’s strawberry, loganberry, gooseberry, or raspberry!

Once it is at a sweetness level that you like, cool and then add straight kefir grains (1-2tbs per liter), or the kefir solution (¼ cup per liter).

BONUS: Using water kefir as a Starter Base

Add water kefir liquid to a kraut to start it. Use water kefir liquid as a base for a smoothie – leave the smoothie out for a day to inoculate with full probiotics and gain awesome bubbles!

Maintaining Your Kefir

  1. Feed regularly. Water kefir grains want to be fed every 2-3 day
  2. Keep at room temperature. Your kefir ferments best at a room temperature environment (again, if they are kept in cooler places, they are less active and need to be fed less often).
  3. Refresh sugar-water. As your grains ferment, over time they create a sour, acidic environment. For our digestion and palate this is great, but an environment that is too acidic can be harmful to your grains.

    If you don’t regularly change their sugar water (strain and reintroduce into a fresh sugar water solution), the organisms in your kefir grains will “pickle” themselves, eventually dying and then decomposing into nothing in their liquid habitats.
  4. Mid-term storage. Going away for up to 2 weeks? Put fresh your grains in a fresh sugar-water solution and place in the fridge to slow fermentation.
  5. Long-term storage. Going away for a longer than 2 weeks? Strain your grains into a plastic bag or freezer safe (non-metallic!) container, and place in your freezer. They can survive for months in this “hibernation” state.

    When you are ready to use them again, put the ice-chunk of kefir grains back into a sugar-water solution, where it will thaw and start eating again. Add some “welcome-home” fruits, a cleaned eggshell for extra calcium, or a pinch of baking-soda for minerals.
  6. Too many grains? They multiply fast, and this can easily become an issue for you. Try dehydrating your grains using a dehydrator, or simply spreading them out on a plate with good air circulation.

    As long as the grains are not heated to a temperature over 130 degrees, they will not die and can be re-hydrated when the time comes. This is also a great method for people moving overseas or as a backup!
  7. Vessels and Equipment. I prefer using glass as it’s transparent, I can see what is happening inside and there is no chance or plastic leaking anything into my kefir to hurt me or my kefir grains.

    Stainless steel can work, but again, you can’t see what’s happening inside, and I like to avoid using metal whenever possible as metal is an irritant to the grains. One exception is the strainer. If you have a plastic sieve, great, but brief contact with a metal strainer is not a problem.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I use the water used to rehydrate my water kefir grains?

    Technically you can, however I often toss it to the flowers as it hasn't reached its full probiotic, bubbling potential. I rather wait until my grains are lively and producing a tasty liquid.

    My grains started off brown… now they’re clear. Is this bad?

    Your grains will change color according to your liquid solution. Sometimes i have pink grains, sometimes yellow and sometimes blue! Clear/translucent is their original state.

    Does it matter what water I use?

    ALWAYS use de-chlorinated water. This means, if you have chlorine in your taps, to boil the water or to let it sit for 24 hours before using. Spring, filtered, reverse-osmosis water or bottled water is great but not necessary

    What is the best sugar to use for water kefir?

    Water kefir is very forgiving with sugar sources - even honey or agave syrup works! I use sugar sources with the most minerals and vitamins such as cane sugar, molasses, jaggery, or panella. Just be careful using maple and agave syrup, as they have antibacterial properties which might hurt your grains - so try experimenting with an extra set of grains.

    How do I store water kefir grains when not in use?

    Any kind of food safe, non-metal container (if metal, than only stainless steel because of its anti-rusting, anti corroding properties). I prefer GLASS - as you can see through it, it is easy to clean and will not react in anyway with any strong acidification that happens.

    How much does the sugar content drop when fermenting water kefir?

    After the kefir grains have feasted, the sugar content can be reduced by 80%!

    My kefir grains are not growing / multiplying / bubbling and it's been 3 days already!

    Perhaps your grains are looking for some:

    • shaking /stirring - these guys love activity

    • minerals - try adding some dried fruit, a pinch of baking soda, a pinch of sea-salt, or a drop of molasses in your mix

    • calcium - add half of a cleaned egg shell - when the eggshell starts deteriorating and becomes thin, take it out

    • fresh water and sugar! The easiest of cures - give your grains a rinse from all the old fruit and yeast residue

    What is the exact temperature range my kefir grains can survive in?

    Water kefir grains can survive basically from freezing to 110 °F (40 °C). However to yield the best results, they should be stored away from direct sunlight at about 68-80 °F (20-27 °C).

    Can you freeze water kefir grains?​

    Yes. Water kefir grains freeze great! Strain them and put in a plastic ziplock. Freeze for up to 6 months. To start using them again, put ice-chunk of grains in a sugar solution with some dried fruit and they should be live and active in no time. 

    How often do I need to feed my kefir grains?

    Every 2-4 days. They will be more active in hotter temperatures, less in colder ones - so watch how fast they eat and double in size in the summer compared to the winter for example.

    Can you eat water kefir grains?​

    Yes! They don't really taste like much, but it's a probiotic punch. You can even feed them to your cat or dog by mixing the grains in their food. Plants love them as well - when you have too much, sprinkle them in the garden. 

    I added dried fruit and they seemed to have hurt my kefir grains. Why?

    Use dried fruit that is not irradiated or suffered. This often means finding organic fruits without harmful preservatives. 

    My water kefir grains disappeared!

    If you have neglected feeding, shaking and changing the water of your grains, and the lid is on tight, your kefir grains will pickle themselves. This in turn means they are no longer active, and after this point they will disintegrate at the bottom of your vessel. Keep a backup in the freezer or dried just in case!

    Water Kefir vs. Kombucha - Which is better for you?

    These are two different SCOBY's (symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast) - both with different strains of bacteria. As kombucha takes longer to ferment, it often has more variety of probiotics in it.

    Also, it has been mentioned that water kefir turns glucose into fructose, so if you are trying to have a no sugar-probiotic-diet, try other fermented foods where sugar isn't a main ingredient 

    Water Kefir vs. Milk Kefir - Which one is better for you?​

    This all depends on what strains of bacteria you are looking for. Both SCOBY's have different strains and different benefits of probiotics. People with lactose sensitivities might rather choose water kefir (originally called TIBICOS), whereas people with sugar and fructose sensitivities should choose something more like milk kefir. 

    Unfortunately someone gave the name KEFIR to both water and milk bacterial strains just because of their shape and size, but in the end they are two completely different bacterias. ​

    What does Water Kefir taste like?

    Water kefir tastes like a light sparkling beverage, and changes flavor according the ingredients added. The longer you ferment it, the more yeasty it tastes (compared to kombucha, which tastes more vinegary over time) 

    How many calories are in water kefir?

    This depends on how much sugar you initially add to you kefir solution. Calculate how much sugar you have initially started with, and after a fermentation process (again depending on how long you like to ferment your water kefir) there is about 80% less sugar. 

    Are there any side effects of water kefir grains?

    As water kefir grains helps detox, if you have many toxins and have not started detoxing previously, you could detox too quickly by drinking too much water kefir, and have a stomach ache or head ache, or a rash or red face... these are signs of detoxing too quickly. 

    Can water kefir help with acne?

    Yes. As consuming probiotics helps you detox, clearer skin is often a result from water kefir and probiotic foods in general. 

    How much water kefir should I drink per day?

    If you are a beginner, start with a small glass in the morning. Then move to a small glass in the morning and one before bed. Bring up your tolerance over time and drink as one feels compelled. 

    Does water kefir help with weight loss?

    As there is still sugar present, drinking water kefir does not directly help with weight loss, however it can be one step forward to a healthier lifestyle which might include weight loss.

    Drinking and eating foods that are high in minerals and vitamins means that we are not searching in other foods for these nutrients, and thus not eating unnecessary amounts of food.

    What is the difference between water kefir grains and powdered kefir starter culture

    Powdered kefir culture starter is often a one-time-use-only process, whereas when you have actually living grains, they can reproduce theoretically forever!  

    Does water kefir contain gluten?​

    No. Grains refers only to the textual look of the bacteria colonies.

    Are water kefir grains reusable?​

    Yes. They will stay alive for generations upon generations as long as you keep taking care of them by feeding them a sugar source, and fresh water.

    Can I rehydrate the water kefir grains longer than the recommended 3-5 days?​

    Once your grain are rehydrated, they will simply be rehydrated = saturated, and thus usable. Go ahead and have fun.

    Can I use juice to make water kefir?​

    You can add juices to create sparkling, probiotic drinks from simple juices. I have had success in adding apple juice,black current juice and grape juice.

    Water Kefir Guide Cover

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    That's it! I hope you enjoyed our little guide. What are your favorite flavors? Any questions left?
    Let us know in the comments!

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    8 Comments

  1. Reply How to Travel the World and Never Get Food Poisoning - This American Girl September 29, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    […] Check out this awesome guide, from another pro-biotic passionate world traveler The Ultimate Guide on How to Make Water Kefir. […]

  2. Reply Anna Frylinck March 21, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    I was not aware that water kefir contains gluten. We drink water kefir and my husband has a gluten sensitvity! Please give me more information about where the gluten in the water kefir comes from.
    Thank you
    Anna

    • Reply Alexis March 21, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      No, water kefir ‘grains’ do not contain any gluten. They are SCOBYs (symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast) purely. They are called ‘grains’ because of their shape and size. Their traditional name can be traced back to “tibicos” – cheers
      Alexis – your Bacteria Barista

  3. Reply Delfina March 28, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Hi Alexis, how are you? First of all thank you so much for such an amazing project and all the information that you give us. I’m 25 years old and I have acne. I’veen drinking water kefir since january but lately i’ve been breaking out a lot and I dont know if it has a connection to WK. I think it could be that my body is detoxifying but it has been three months since I started drinking it. I have Candida and I think it could be worsening the yeast infection that i have. What do you think? Sorry for my bad english.
    Kisses from Argentina.

    • Reply Alexis March 29, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      Hey Delfina, What candida is, is a yeast imbalance. Often drinking ferments with a lot of sugar content can worsen the imbalance. Water kefir unfortunately has a higher amount of sugar than other ferments. Its important to keep up the probiotic side of things, but perhaps try different ferments for a while, like sauerkrauts, milk kefirs and yogurts and see if this has an effect on your acne. Keeping up with probiotics can help crowd out the Candida yeasts and regulate the acidity in the stomach and boost the immune system, so dont give up on them completely – just regulate. 🙂

      • Reply Delfina March 29, 2016 at 6:29 pm

        I have lactoce intolerance and unfortunately in my country there’s not dairy products without lactoce yet so its a bit complicated to eat them. I think I could try doing other types of ferments so I can consume the probiotics in other ways. I will try to not put so much sugar in my water kefir ( just enought to feed the grains) but anyway maybe I should moderate how much I drink.
        Thank you so much!

  4. Reply Leslie November 28, 2016 at 11:57 am

    In depth and extremely helpful article. Thank you!!

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